Making Time for the Milestones

The Ensemble seeks to connect and inform all people who are committed to ensemble music education for youth empowerment and social change.

Making Time for the Milestones

Stanford Thompson, Founder and Executive Director, Play On Philly and Founding Board Chairman, El Sistema USA


This past summer, the evening that Play On Philly (POP) presented its virtual showcase concert happened to mark the ten-year anniversary of our decision to launch the program. As I sat at my laptop watching, I felt sad not to be celebrating that milestone in person with my POP family. But I also felt gratitude as I reflected on how our community has supported each other since the day we started. We have always embraced the El Sistema philosophy and encouraged our students and teachers to reach for levels of learning and engagement we know are possible to achieve. 

So many of us in the North American El Sistema-inspired movement are experiencing milestone anniversaries of one kind or another. And we share the experience of milestone challenges along the way. Building a good program. Expanding that program to multiple locations. Building an organization in support of the good program and building trust among all our stakeholders. Establishing the partnerships needed to provide our students with more opportunities. And deepening those partnerships so they have a major stake in our students’ lives.  

Stanford with POP violinist: Photo Credit Albert Yee

If I could give my ten-years-ago self some advice, I would tell Stan not to put so much pressure on himself. I don’t mean I’d encourage him to be less ambitious or to achieve less, but I’d tell him to better preserve his energy along the way. I would encourage him to be more content with the lives he is impacting, and to focus on his hardworking team. I would assure him that good work will be accomplished, and that he’ll be so proud to see his students graduate from college, serve the country in so many different ways, and grow into resilient young adults who can navigate any setback.  

So, I offer this advice to our movement’s young leaders today. Even in the midst of challenge and adversity, don’t forget to celebrate—to take more moments to turn around and see how far the boulder has been pushed up the hill by your growing family of colleagues and community. 

As I look forward to our next decade, I think about the stresses the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on our families, students, teachers, and organizations. The shifts we are experiencing today will require us to stay flexible and resilient, ready for new opportunities and challenges. When better days return, will we build savings and reserves instead of adding that fourth site? Will we consistently build relationships with our donors, even when we don’t need their help, so they will be there for us in tough times? Will we allocate more human and financial resources to building our internal capacity for evaluation, fundraising, and operations?  

Let’s devote this next decade both to our growth as individuals and to collective action, advocating for intensive arts education for every child in our country. “Tocar y Luchar!” 


© Copyright 2022 Ensemble News